Enterprises have recognized the importance of engaging customers and business partners through social media channels as well as SMS text and web chat. It is good that they understand the value of technology solutions that integrate social media and messaging into a larger unified communications solution. However, too often when an enterprise plans to engage over these channels, they build the process around a single team such as marketing or customer support. This may have been an effective way to launch a social media strategy a few years ago, but with the prevalence of social media today, a single-purpose approach may lead to lost opportunities and extra work.

History is full of great lessons, and we can take a lesson from bygone days when external customers and vendors engaged with a business one of three ways: written letters, telephone calls or in-person. An enterprise would have not ventured to set up a switchboard to route only one type of call or expected a receptionist to be the single contact for all walk-in visitors. Mailrooms were not instructed to send every incoming letter to the same department. As absurd as those examples seem, when an enterprise has a single “social media” team or department, they are doing the same thing.

I researched some social media trends a few weeks ago when I saw this job listing:

Receptionist/Social Media – Experience answering and transferring calls, and experience with social media. Must be able to file and be good at taking directions. The position pays 9.00 per hour starting salary. Ideal job for a recent college grad looking to join a growing company.

Aside from the misguided assumption that someone fresh out of college who posted pictures of Spring break on Snapchat is an expert at business-grade social media, there is again the implication that social media has single purpose. Different communications purposes require different responses and different skills. For simplicity, we can group the purposes under three categories: Marketing/PR, Customer Support/Sales, and Tier 1/Switchboard.


Marketing/PR would include purposes such as brand awareness, lead generation, reputation management and crisis management. These interactions are carefully controlled and designed to communicate a consistent message. The required expertise includes creating content. The mechanics of managing chat or direct message interactions is only a small part of the expertise necessary to generate content and responses for effective marketing and public relations. PR responses to negative publicity or issues require the same skills that are necessary for creating a corporate press release. If your telephone receptionist already has the skills to manage social media marketing and public relations, you should take that person off the phones and put them in your marketing / PR department. This isn’t meant to disparage the role of a receptionist. Decades ago, I was a receptionist as my first office job, and there are appropriate social media use cases for the receptionist, which will be addressed later.

Customer Support/Sales

Customer Support/Sales purposes include addressing individual customer complaints and questions which are generated via direct messages or publicly posted tweets, photos and comments. Social Media channels have received a lot of attention in current deployments of contact center platforms and CRM systems, and for good reason. A survey statistic from 2018 states that 59% of Americans believe that social media makes customer service issues easier to resolve. Interactions in this category can be both customer and company initiated. While I have worked with several contact centers that have created a separate social media customer service team, the required knowledge and resources are the same as what is needed for telephone support teams. As an enterprise contact center moves to a unified multi-channel technology solution, the trend will be for social media teams to reintegrate back into the general contact center. 

Tier 1/Switchboard

The “Receptionist” job listing was an example of a smaller organization trying to make the role an all-inclusive social media position. This may be a mistake, but that does not mean that there is not a role for Tier 1/Switchboard level social media. Tier 1/Switchboard includes purposes that do not require specialized expertise to address. I recently worked with a small college that started their social media strategy with Marketing/PR on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. As interactions grew, they found that they were overwhelmed answering general questions such as “What time does the game start?” They also spent time referring many inquiries to admissions or financial aid. As we evaluated the process it became apparent that the role that they were fulfilling was a switchboard operator. The communication channel was different, but not the purpose. A switchboard operator takes calls, answers general questions and refers more detailed or sensitive phone calls to the appropriate department or subject matter expert. The college is now in the process of adding text and social media channels to their switchboard, allowing Marketing and PR to refocus on the purposes that fit their expertise.

Single-Purpose Solutions Create Silos

When an enterprise starts with a single-purpose social media strategy, it is less likely to identify requirements for interactions that do not fit that purpose. In turn, technology solutions may be selected that are too siloed to grow well with the multipurpose interactions. As an example, will the solution allow the tier 1 answering point to “transfer” the non-voice interaction to an SME outside of the contact center or front desk? Is the social media channel so tied into a CRM platform that once it is delegated outside of the team, there is no way to track the resolution of the customer case?

The biggest risk remains delegating the whole channel to a resource or team that is either not prepared or overqualified to manage the transaction. Instead of still viewing social media as a unique skill, it should now just be considered an important part of many different jobs. Anything else will most likely result in an incomplete strategy.